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World War II in Solomon Islands



Key battleground in the Pacific War

Mat McLachlan's Battlefield Tours

Suggested WWII
sites to visit

1. 4th Division storage tunnel, Guadalcanal.
Bloody Ridge, Guadalcanal.
Beach Red, Guadalcanal.
Gavutu Island, Central Province.
Beach Blue, Tulagi, Central Province.
Enogi Inlet, Munda
7. Fighter 1 and Fighter 2, Guadalcanal.
Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal.
Maruyama Trail, Kakabona.
Ichiki monument, Guadalcanal.

By Richard Moore

WWII sites pictures pages

IT WAS hot, humid and the smell of rotting vegetation was an obvious presence as we trekked along the jungle path.

Fallen branches and tree roots forced us to be careful where we put our feet and to all sides the thick greenery made seeing beyond their verdant edges near impossible.

What a tough place to fight a war, I thought, with intense admiration for the men in World War II who fought over the Solomon Islands between 1942 and 1945.

It was regarded as a military hellhole where the Allies and Japanese Imperial forces clashed in a brutal struggle for dominance.

Whoever held the Solomons controlled the supply lines to the South Pacific and a major gateway to Australia, a few hours flying time to the south-west of the main island of Guadalcanal.

The fighting – on the ground, at sea and in the air – was vicious and bloody.

The Allies lost as estimated 10,600 men killed, had 800 aircraft destroyed and more than 40 warships sunk.

The Japanese losses were even more horrendous with more than 50 ships sunk, 1500 planes shot down and 80,000 servicemen killed.

Coastwatchers Memorial, Honiara, Solomon IslandsTravelling in the Solomon Islands today you see an extraordinary number of war memorials and remnants.

On the Honiara waterfront there is a statue to the courageous Allied Coastwatchers who, together with local islanders, monitored Japanese shipping movements.

Outside the police headquarters is one honouring Sir Jacob Vouza - a retired police officer whose bravery saved an American force from a surprise Japanese night attack and a skyline memorial to the US forces who fought there.

Vouza's is an extraordinary story of courage as he was tortured then left tied up to a tree after being bayoneted many times and despite nearly being dead from blood loss managed to escape and get through enemy lines to warn the Marines.

Skyline Ridge US War Memorial, Honiara, Solomon IslandsAnd the capital’s airport is built on Henderson Field, the focus of much fighting as both sides tried to control it as the key to air supremacy in the area.

About 50 kilometres to the west of Honiara is the Vilu War Museum, an amazing resting place for a large number of wrecked aircraft and military weapons.

Owned and operated by Anderson Diua, the war museum contains the remains of a Grumman Wildcat, a Japanese “Betty” bomber, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a Corsair as well as Japanese artillery pieces and other weapons.

To the east of Honiara lies Hell’s Point – a major ammunition dump during WWII – and a place that is off limits to visitors because of the dangers of live ordnance that still lies there.

It is a shame because not far from the road are several destroyed Japanese tanks.

Vilu War Museum, Guadalcanal, Solomon IslandsJust down the main road from Hell’s Point we went across country to get to the site of the Battle of Tenaru, or Alligator Creek, where a Japanese night attack was destroyed by US machinegun fire after Vouza’s warning.

Not far from the rivermouth is a memorial to the Japanese dead called the Ichiki Memorial after the colonel of the regiment.

A few kilometres further east we pulled up to Beach Red where the Allies first landed on Guadalcanal. There’s not much to see there now, but a short drive away is the Tetere Beach WWII Museum that has a huge number of US Amtracks within its grounds.

The Amtracks were amphibious landing craft that could make their way inland to better protect seaborne troops.

The owner of the museum is Sammy Basoe, who is the grandson of Sir Jacob Vouza.

Japanese tank, Guadalcanal, Solomon IslandsOn and around New Georgia you can stumble across interesting war-related sights just by asking locals or a guide.

Near the island’s capital of Munda there are two fascinating places.

The first is the Peter Joseph WWII Museum, which is a trove of militaria picked up on the many local battlefields, and then a number of US landing craft now being covered by jungle at the back of a house.

The Peter Joseph War Museum has an amazing number of artifacts within its walls. Helmets, machineguns, bullet casings, rifle remains, rusting waterbottles … all manner of items to be found on battlefields.

The owner is Barney Paulsen who has spent years creating his museum, which is named after an American serviceman Peter Joseph Palatini whose dogtags he uncovered.

Peter Joseph Museum, Munda, Solomon IslandsA short drive away behind a house is an astonishing resting ground for US military equipment.

After they no longer needed landing craft and other vehicles the Americans cut them in half and bulldozed them off the beach to where they now lit being swallowed by the encroaching jungle.

It is very eerie to see the mighty wreckage of war peeking out through vines and branches – not to mention the fact landing craft are so far from the water!

On the way back to Gizo by longboat we stopped at two really interesting sites.

On the island of Tahitu we had an extraordinary find. We landed at a small inlet and walked up a barely recognisable track to find our guide waiting to take us to an abandoned WWII tank. Clearing the track of overhanging vines with a machete, Hudson led us to what turned out to be a US Stuart tank.

Stuart tank, Tahitu Island, Solomon IslandsThe Stuarts were one of the best light tanks of the war, but after almost 70 years out in the tropical climate this one needs a bit of a spruce up.

Continuing our journey over the lagoon we stopped midway to Gizo for a truly memorable spot of snorkeling.

About seven metres below us was the near-intact remains of an American Hellcat fighter, shot down in a dogfight by its own side.

The sky was dark and it was late afternoon but despite that we hopped over the side with mask and fins and got to see the wreck close up.

It was a magnificent adventure and, for military history buffs, a real buzz.

Sunken WW2 Hellcat, Solomon IslandsSo was another place we passed by – Kennedy Island, the piece of land that saved Lt John F Kennedy, later to be US president, from a watery death after his PT-109 was sliced in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on August 2, 1943.

For people interested in the Pacific War – from all sides - the Solomon Islands is a must-visit destination for it really brings to life the vital struggle that helped save Australia and New Zealand from Japanese invasion during World War II.

Visit Solomon Island Visitors Bureau website by clicking here.


Copyright 2014 RICHARD MOORE